Working out is one of those important-but-not-urgent tasks that can easily fall to the bottom of your to-do list. We are often reminded of how important this kind of self-care is after we hit a major milestone birthday, or experience a health scare, or see a friend or family member struggle with a health problem.
Even if you don’t have an external motivation to exercise, it’s important to remember just how much regular exercise can help improve quality of life as we age. According to Erika Plank Hagan, a group fitness instructor in Ridgefield, Connecticut, “exercising affects your proprioceptive sense—the system that tells you where you are in space. Because of this effect, you’re less likely to bump into things or fall the more you exercise, which is pretty important for us as we age, since whether or not you fall is a pretty big indicator on quality and length of life.”
As good as these reasons are for starting a new fitness regime, knowing the best way to reintroduce your body to athletics if you haven’t had a formal workout in years (or decades) can be tough.
If you want to start an exercise regimen but you’re worried about how to go about it, here is what you need to know about jumping into to fitness, and some of the best workouts for new exercisers:
Check with Your Doctor First
You may have noticed that every exercise video and gym membership application starts with a recommendation that you consult your doctor before beginning your exercise regimen. You might assume that this is just a legal protection for the fitness professional—which it is—but it is also a good idea for anyone with underlying health issues or anyone whose last workout took place around the time they changed the flavor of Coca-Cola. That’s because some health problems could be exacerbated by some types of exercise, and your doctor will be in the best position to advise you on the best workouts to try.
If scheduling an appointment with your doctor just to ask about exercise would be onerous, you can start with the Physical Activity Readiness Questionnaire (PAR-Q) to determine if that doctor’s appointment is necessary. When in doubt, though, make sure your doctor clears you for exercise before starting any new regimen.
Workouts to Get You Back in Touch with Your Body
After years away from regular working out, you have probably lost touch with your body in some ways. This means you have a harder time recognizing what is normal and what isn’t after a workout.
Hagan writes that “as we age without exercising, our body awareness goes down. Mindfulness of how your body works, how it functions in space, and how it usually feels, means you’ll probably know when something isn’t normal. This makes it much easier to distinguish between normal muscle soreness after a workout and a possible injury. With body mindfulness, you are more able to exercise intelligently and know when get help if you need it.”
This need to reconnect with your body means that new exercisers may want to start with gentler workouts that focus on the mind-body connection. Some of the best exercises to do this are:
Not only does yoga help with stress relief, pain management, balance, and flexibility, but it is also an easily modified workout, which is important for beginners or those with body limitations. Kay Bell, a blogger from Texas, has credited her Yoga classes with “loosening up her aging, tightening muscles.”
You can get started with these 3 low-impact yoga poses or find yoga classes at many gyms, community centers, and yoga studios. You can also find videos online geared toward your specific needs.
Pilates is a fitness program that focuses on controlled breathing, and quality of movement to help you condition your body. Because Pilates is not a weight-bearing exercise regimen, it’s gentle on joints and easily modified. Also, the focus on quality of movement rather than quantity of repetitions makes this a great regimen for anyone who needs to start slowly.
Like Yoga, you can often find Pilates classes at your local gym or community center, but there are also a number of videos online and DVDs for sale that offer Pilates instruction geared to your needs.
Taking walks is one of the easiest methods of getting in some daily exercise, and it has a number of important health benefits, from improving muscle strength to weight loss to reducing loss of bone mass to improving circulation. In addition, walking outside has been proven to decrease feelings of depression and lower stress.
Since walking has a very low barrier to entry—there is no equipment or special instruction necessary—it can be a great way for a new exerciser to reconnect with his body. Starting a daily walking habit can help to improve the mind-body connection even if you do not have access to other workout possibilities.
Working out can often feel like a chore, and the fact that you are only disappointing yourself if you skip your workouts means that you might feel no qualms about playing hooky from exercise. For any new exerciser who loves to socialize, the trick is to find a way to work out with friends.
Joe Saul-Sehy, the creator and co-host of the Stacking Benjamins podcast, writes that his group of friends is what changed him from a non-exerciser to a marathoner: “Eight years ago I fell in with a group of friends who were all marathoners. I’d never really cared about running before. Now, eight years later, I’ve finished 11 and have two scheduled. The key? Surround yourself with a good support system of like-minded people.”
Here are some workouts that are both newbie-friendly, and a great way to socialize:
Group water aerobics classes are one of the staples of community center fitness offerings, and it can be a great way to get back into working out while enjoying the company of friends. These classes generally take place in shoulder-deep water and cycle through several traditional aerobics exercises, calisthenics and motions. The water both helps make these moves more feasible and offers light, low-impact resistance that helps to build muscle.
Generally, even non-swimmers can easily do water aerobics, and the pace of the class is often conducive to chatting while you exercise.
This oddly-named sport is one of the most popular new fitness trends among Baby Boomers. The game is a kind of mash-up between tennis, badminton, and ping-pong, and it is played by either two or four players. It is less strenuous than tennis or other traditional racket sports, but it still offers a good aerobic workout. It’s also an easy game to learn, so friends can pick up the rules and get to playing quickly and easily.
Eileen Lauer, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, had never taken any fitness classes before trying a Zumba class out of curiosity: “I. Fell. In. Love. I love the music, the dancing, the work out, the camaraderie, and I couldn’t get enough of it.”
It turns out that Gloria Estefan was quite right—the rhythm is gonna to get you. Dance classes, from Zumba to line dancing, can be a great way to indulge your love of music and dance with some friends.
There are some important caveats to new exercisers who are jumping into dance classes, however. You do need to know your limitations and be willing to talk to the instructor about modifications if you need them. Hagan writes “PLEASE tell your instructor what you need. The good ones can modify up or down within their existing plan, and can certainly take requests for areas of improvement.” This is especially true for group dance classes.
Workouts You Can Do at Home
A common problem with committing to a workout routine is figuring out how to get your exercise in on busy days or during inclement weather. Whether you hope to do all of your workouts in the comfort of your own home, or you simply need to have some at-home workouts in your back pocket for the days you can’t make it to your fitness class, here are several options for beginner-friendly workouts you can always do from home:
This site offers free full-length workout videos for any ability level, in addition to full workout routines (which give you specific instructions for a several-weeks-long regimen), as well as healthy recipes. Emily Berry, of Wisconsin swears by this site: “I use Fitness Blender pretty religiously. No ads, no gimmicks, free workouts for any ability and however much time you have, including some really nice low-impact cardio routines.”
Resistance exercise is a good way to strengthen muscles and improve balance and flexibility while staving off age-related muscle loss. You might assume that you need to purchase weights or other equipment to start strength training at home, but that is simply not the case. There are many exercises you can do at home that require no equipment. U.S. News and World Report wrote up the 8 best equipment-free strength exercises for older adults in 2016. Make a habit of going through these 8 exercises three or four days a week, and you’ll see improvement in your fitness level.
Commit to Be Fit
Getting back into physical fitness is an investment in yourself. Finding a workout that you enjoy and that works for your ability level is the key to enjoying better health, a better mindset, and more energy. Why wouldn’t you commit to that?
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